Israel Independence Day is a very special celebration. The streets of most cities are festooned with flags and lights, and special events are planned in almost every community.
It was not an easy task for Israel to reach its 59th birthday, as the still smoldering world anti-Semitism just made it harder. It is a pleasure to realize that many of those living today never knew a time when Israel did not exist and that are unaware of the struggle and the savage pain inflicted upon the Jews before the birth of Israel. In the past, there were many who would not believe that a Jewish state could be established or that a country surrounded by so many millions of sworn enemies and in a world where so much open or subtly camouflaged anti-Semitism existed, could be viable. Fifty-nine years have passed and, B”H, we are still here.
That is why we see such a strong connection between Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel Memorial Day and Israel Independence Day. The Holocaust was a period of absolute horror that was the epitome of the hundreds of years of Jewish suffering and exile. G-d has declared, it would seem, an end to our wandering and may have decreed that we should finish our years of exile in Israel, as we wait for the Moshiach to come. Pain and suffering still exist but the Jews in Israel are no longer sheep waiting for the slaughter. The Holocaust must always be remembered, but must never be allowed to happen again.
We want to shout with joy on our independence day and warn the rest of the world that we will no longer tolerate the oppression of the past. But before we dance with joy, there is one other important day of remembrance that we must commemorate. It was not enough that our families were murdered so brutally by the Germans, Russians, Poles and their allies. After the Holocaust, the sympathy of the non-Jewish world was limited and would only extend so far. It was quickly obvious that if the Jews wanted a home, we would have to fight for it and no European, American, Asian, African or other nation would allow us to peacefully return to our ancient homeland.
The Arabs did not want independent Jews living in their midst, no matter how small and forsaken that piece of homeland was. Our men, women, sons and daughters had to sacrifice their blood so that Israel could be established and continue to exist. Time and time again, over the past 59 years, the Arabs have attacked and have sworn to continue to attack, no matter how flexible or willing to compromise we are. No Jews are wanted here.
Thus, it was our brave soldiers, many of whom gave their limbs or lives, who were and still are the “silver platter” upon which the land was served up to the people of Israel. Before we can dance with joy, we must cry in sorrow for the disability and death forced on so many thousands of our children. Israel Memorial Day remembers those who gave their lives to allow us to live in our homeland.
On Israel Memorial Day, as the sun sinks in the west, a switch is thrown in our souls and our tears of sorrow are suddenly transformed into tears of boundless joy. The flags are raised from half-mast to their highest heights, the fireworks shoot into the air, and the music transforms the day of mourning into a night of celebration.
We realize that Israel’s independence was declared during the counting of the Omer and the mourning period commemorating the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students. We understand that your rabbi may not condone a celebration of the event, even though it impacted the lives of every Jew in the world.
Israel’s rabbis, however, understand the unparalleled extent of G-d’s miracle and have declared this a day of religious celebration with the recitation of the Hallel praise of Hashem and many other Psalms of Joy – before we return to the sadness of the period.
Those of little faith, who deny that G-d had a strong hand in this Jewish miracle, will continue to say Tachanun on Yom HaAtzmaut and will continue to deny G-d’s work in our generation. I feel sorry for them.
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Note to Readers: Israel, its leaders and its soldiers are greatly in need of your prayers – maybe even more than in the past. Many of today’s leaders have little faith and we must ask G-d to open their eyes and give them understanding, so that Israel will flourish and remain the Jewish homeland.
If you do not have a copy of the Prayer for the Soldiers and for the State of Israel in your Siddur, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to me, c/o The Jewish Press, and I will be happy to send you a copy.